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Why SpongeBob Fans Are Hating On Sponge On The Run

SpongeBob SquarePants (voiced by Tom Kenny) is the undisputed king of Nickelodeon, rising to the top of the children's programming world from the moment he arrived on televisions everywhere. After SpongeBob SquarePants debuted on the network in 1999, it took no time at all for the little yellow sponge that lives in a pineapple under the sea to make serious waves across the pop culture world. He quickly became a cartoon icon, merchandising juggernaut, and, later, a bonafide Hollywood star, aging much more gracefully than his '90s counterparts.

As a way to cap off the series, 2004's The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie set out to give the cast one last run as their aquatic counterparts. The film was well-received upon release and made a killing at the global box office — raking in over $141 million on a $30 million budget over the course of its theatrical run. These factors forced Nickelodeon to reconsider the initial plan, resulting in the show sticking around — much to the behest of the series' creator, the late Stephen Hillenburg (via Screen Rant).

Fast forward over a decade later, and the Bikini Bottom gang got another chance to strut their stuff on the silver screen for 2015's The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water. This cinematic outing once again proved a big hit with SpongeBob die-hards, as many praised its updated CGI presentation as well as its heartwarming story. Not to mention, it made roughly $325 million, blowing its predecessor out of the water. Surely a third SpongeBob flick would do just as well critically and commercially, right?

While 2020's The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run is stumbling financially due to its release combining VOD and select theaters — a byproduct of the COVID-19 pandemic — it sadly isn't doing much better with audiences either. The most committed fans of the titular sea sponge have been especially candid in their assessments of the movie.

Sponge on the Run's writing doesn't click

First and foremost, one of the biggest complaints among SpongeBob fans is that Sponge on the Run's story isn't exactly as tight as it could've been. Reddit user u/Green-Economist-6641 voiced their dissatisfaction with the final product thoroughly, stating, "This entire film feels like a rehash of older episodes like Gary Come Home and the one where they go to Atlantis. It could have been a decent half hour special but for some reason they stretched it out into an entire movie."

They continue, expanding on the pitfalls of runtime expectations and attempting to spread a shorter story out. "This leads to a lot of unnecessary filler like SpongeBob and Patrick getting lost in the inferno saloon," they said. "There was also no subtlety or depth in any aspect of writing. The scenes where SpongeBob meets the cast is supposed to be dramatic but it feels so forced, manipulative and contrived."

That opened up a larger discussion about how the film presented the characters themselves. The Redditor went on to write, "Nobody changed or grew in this movie. In the first movie, SpongeBob learns to embrace his childishness. In the second one, Plankton learns about Teamwork. This movie? Nothing. You could argue SpongeBob learned to be courageous but the way it was handled feels like such an afterthought." 

It's no secret that the key to writing a solid script is ensuring that your characters undergo some form of personal change or realization in the end; without that, the narrative loses a lot of its momentum. To many fans, Sponge on the Run dropped the ball in that regard, doing a major disservice to such an iconic set of cartoon characters.

Additionally, u/Green-Economist-6641 also offered up a critique of the movie's attempt at humor, which they felt largely fell flat: "This entire film is just so lazily written. I would have forgiven everything if it had sharp humor but aside from a few jokes it just wasn't. It was so poorly paced for an hour and a half movie." All in all, this particular account isn't very far removed from the opinions of others who seemed equally as disappointed in the latest SpongeBob-centric cinematic adventure.

The Kamp Koral segments weren't subtle

Per Nickelodeon Press, back in June 2019, Nickelodeon executives revealed they were beginning development on a SpongeBob spin-off series titled Kamp Koral, later changed to Kamp Koral: SpongeBob's Under Years. It will follow an aged-down SpongeBob cast during their time at summer camp together and will premiere on CBS All Access sometime in 2021. However, fans don't have to wait around to get their first look at the show, since Sponge on the Run provided a sneak preview through a handful of flashbacks that came off as a tad abrasive to many.

"The last thirty minutes of the film feel like an advertisement for Kamp Koral," said Redditor u/Green-Economist-6641, who certainly didn't stand alone in their frustration with this backdoor pilot for the upcoming program. U/RPG217 mockingly commented, "With how much they shoved Kamp Koral in you would have thought the ending would have been the cast going into camping together with Poseidon." Redditor u/omeguy86 tossed their thoughts in on a separate Reddit thread by Redditor u/PresentDavie, echoing, "I do agree that the camp scenes were forced."

Also worth mentioning is that these Kamp Koral segments also retconned one of the most important aspects of the SpongeBob mythos. For years, the season 1 episode "Tea at the Treedome" stood as the first time SpongeBob and Sandy (voiced by Carolyn Lawrence) ever met one another ... until Sponge on the Run changed the story and implied that camp hosted their introduction. Both u/Green-Economist-6641 and u/PresentDavie mention this unnecessary change in their initial posts, as well as King Neptune being replaced by King Poseidon.

As evidenced by many fans' reactions, Sponge on the Run isn't exactly the most refined SpongeBob project to release on the big or small screen, and definitely isn't receiving so much press for its thrilling story or adherence to the franchise lore. It's unlikely that this will be the final SpongeBob movie ever, and hopefully, those behind the next one will iron out the kinks next time, as to avoid rubbing more viewers the wrong way.